top of page

Not Just Business as Usual: How Women in Kenya are Embracing Climate Smart Agricultural Practices

When Beatrice Nanga became a parent, she wanted to provide her children with a more prosperous life than she had experienced. As a subsistence farmer in Kilifi County in Kenya, however, she was aware of how the worsening climate was affecting the reality of farming as a means of supporting her family. With changes in climate increasing the unpredictability of the rainfall, harvests were decreasing and she and her family, neighbours and wider community were facing a food security crisis.

“I remember growing up, you could predict when the rainfall would occur. You were able to determine when to plant and what to plant at what time," Beatrice said.

"These days it’s getting harder to predict when you’ll be able to harvest. Having school going children as well as older parents under my care, it is important to know harvest time to better plan ourselves to ensure that we don’t go hungry. The past three years have been especially hard, little to no rain has made us have to rethink our farming practices.” 

“My focus was on seeing how to generate income from my farm not spice my food!”

Beatrice needed to stabilise her production and think about more climate resilient crops. When the agriculture extension officer and staff from Equator Kenya Limited (Equator), a leading grower and distributor of African Bird Eye chilies, approached Beatrice about the potential of chili farming, however, she was doubtful.

“The first time I heard about chilli farming I didn’t think much of it. After all, my focus was on

seeing how to generate income from my farm not spice my food!” Beatrice admitted. 

Beatrice Nanga discussing crop and climate resilience options with Equator Production Manager, Michael Maina, at her farm.

“I didn’t take them seriously. When they gave me the seeds and told me to apportion some of my farm that I wasn’t utilising at the moment to plant the chilli, I did so to disprove them. My first chilli harvest yielded 196 kgs which I sold. I was shocked. How could a plant such as that generate for me income. I used the money to pay school fees for my children and buy chickens that would provide us with eggs at home.” 

The following season, Beatrice planted more chili crops – and her yield rose from 196 kgs to 311 kgs even before the full season ended. The added income has been enough to build another house for her large family.

This work has been driven by the UK-funded Sustainable Urban Economic Development Programme (SUED), working with Equator. The programme has helped the farmers see the importance of growing a more drought resistant crop such as chili, which is particularly important in counties that are prone to drought, like Kilifi. Many of Beatrice’s neighbours are now planting chili, with yields averaging more than 200 kgs per harvest at mid-season. The fast-maturing nature of chili crop means that they are able to commence harvesting faster than other crops that they would have planted and can take it to market sooner. 

Promoting Climate-Smart Practices

Women such as Beatrice are keen to implement climate-smart agriculture practices that are a safer bet for them to adapt to the change in weather patterns. Smallholder farmers are increasingly transitioning from subsistence farming, which was not adaptable to climate change, and taking up agricultural best practices that favourably position them to be climate resilient.

And the shift to climate-smart business practices is taking place throughout Equator’s operations. With support of a performance based grant through SUED, Equator has invested £1.25m (Ksh215m) to transition to solar energy and integrate more climate-smart technology at their chili processing facility. The resulting increase in capacity is allowing them to expand their network of farmers. Their aim is to be off-taking the harvest from around 11,000 chilli farmers in Kilifi within two years.

The Kilifi project is just one example of SUED’s work to attract investment into secondary towns in Kenya, building on its prior support to create climate smart urban economic plans in 12 municipalities. Investments have included agro-processing facilities like Equator's, and climate smart infrastructure projects.

“We’ve helped the farmers to understand that even as the El Nino rains commence, the chilli crop roots reduce soil erosion and therefore maintain soil nutrients,” explained Michael Maina, Equator’s Production Manager.

“We’ve spent a lot of time educating the farmers on the benefits of chilli farming. It goes beyond just making profit to making sure that they are prepared to implement climate-smart agricultural practices such as water conservation by practicing good water harvesting when it rains, mulching the crop during weeding to retain soil moisture due to the high temperatures that Kilifi experiences and by having them grow chilli varieties such as the bird eye which is more resilient to temperature fluctuations.”

Beatrice says the support from Equator has come with line of sight of their produce in the market and the assurance that it will provide her with the returns she seeks.

“When Equator came to speak to us about chilli farming, they didn’t just talk about its benefits," she said. "They assured us that when we harvested, they would purchase the products. They’ve kept their promise. We have the confidence to grow the chilli because we know we have a market for the produce and the income is reliable enabling us to educate our children and feed our families without worrying about the changes in weather.”

For Beatrice, she is now looking across her fertile and productive land towards that stability she dreamed of providing for her family:

“As a community we have learned how to anticipate, prepare for, and respond to climate change and what agricultural produce to plant to ensure that we are not affected by the extreme climatic conditions. We are better placed to tackle the challenges of droughts, floods and know how to be intentional with our crops when we have shortage of water.” 


bottom of page